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Dr. Brenda Allen, “Begin with a Clock: How Brown University Addressed its Connection to Slavery”

Dr. Brenda A. Allen is Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at Winston Salem State University. While at Brown University, Allen was a member of the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice. She has published widely in the area of culture and cognitive processing. 

In 2003, Brown University President Ruth Simmons appointed a Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice. The committee included faculty, students and administrators, charged to investigate and to prepare a report about the University’s historical relationship to slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. This was the first major American university to launch such an inquiry into its past and the benefits scholars reaped from slavery. The final report, released in 2006, recommended a series of measures, including the creation of a center for the study of slavery and injustice, rewriting Brown’s history to acknowledge the role of slavery, creating a memorial to the slave trade in Rhode Island, and recruiting more minority students. Currently, other universities — among them YaleColumbia, and Georgetown — are also engaged in investigating the past and determining how to use it to promote justice. 
Dr. Brenda Allen was a member of the Brown Committee and will be speaking at Duke on February 7 about the Committee’s work. Currently, Allen is provost at Winston Salem State University and a vice-chancellor for Her talk is part of “Dangerous Memories,” a series that features speakers addressing the challenges of dealing with difficult or hidden histories on American university campuses. The series is part of a Bass Connections project looking at Duke’s past and recommending ways our community should be using the past. Robin Kirk, the co-director of the DHRC@FHI and the leader of the Constructing Memory project, conducted this interview via email. 
Robin Kirk:  What steps led to the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice being formed? Was there student, faculty and alumni support?
Brenda Allen: The committee grew out of the then popular public debate about reparations for slavery. There was support for this effort, but the support wasn’t unanimous in any of these groups.  
RK: Brown acted well before other universities. What were the factors that led to the university taking on this complex issue?
BA: For me, it was President Simmons’ courage and respect for the academy’s place in the debate that led to this important work.
RK: Many more universities are taking on these questions, including Georgetown, Yale and Columbia. If you could tell them 2 things to keep in mind, what would they be?
BA: No one is better prepared than the university to engage in a rigorous intellectual process related to these issues. Recommendations emanating from the process should keep in mind that the primary roles of the university is to educate and further knowledge production .
RK: Now that you are in a leadership position at a North Carolina Historically Black College, what advice would you give to other HBCUs and North Carolina universities about dealing with the past?
BA: We cannot continue to act as if the past never happened.

Dangerous Memories: Conversations around the past, social justice and constructing university memory
This series features speakers addressing the challenges of dealing with difficult or hidden histories on American university campuses. Our speakers address how their campuses and museums have confronted legacies of slavery, racism and inequality in a thoughtful way that promotes social justice.  This series is held in conjunction with a Bass Connections Brain and Society project that is looking at how memory is constructed at Duke and laying out ways the campus could build a more inclusive story about its past. 


Sponsored by the Duke Human Rights Center @ the Franklin Humanities Institute.  Cosponsored by Bass Connections: Brain and Society, the Duke University Archives, the Duke Language, Arts and Media Program (LAMP) and the Pauli Murray Project


February 7, 2017
4:00 pm - 5:30 pm


Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room
1st Floor of Rubenstein Library + Google Map